Labyrinth Lord: Downward to Adventure!

Left to right: Lasoleg the Elf, Gringo the Halfling, Bob the Cleric and Pope the Dwarf. Fittingly, Dingus the Thief cannot be seen.

For International Traditional Gaming Week, I rounded up some players to delve into Castle of the Mad Archmage using the Labyrinth Lord rules. For most of the people at the table, it was their first time with an old school ruleset, including myself. On their way to explore Castle Greyhawk for fame and fortune, Lasoleg the elf, Gringo the halfling, Bob the cleric, Dingus the thief and Pope the dwarf found themselves abruptly tumbling down into unexplored depths when a hidden quicksand pit deposited them on the outskirts of a sprawling underground complex.

When the idea to run this first popped into my head, I had no idea what to expect. I came to role-playing late enough that third edition Dungeons & Dragons was the de facto standard. My only real exposure to the older versions came from the adaptation used by the Baldur’s Gate computer games — fine games in their own right, but they don’t really give you the flavor of consulting a THAC0 table or figuring how many more experience points the elf earned for the ochre jelly.

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20 Signs of Secret Doors

Looking at the maps for Castle of the Mad Archmage and the descriptions got me thinking not only about the information the text conveys, but what it doesn’t. There are secret doors all over the place, sure, but that’s all the information you get. Everything else is up to the GM, which is as it should, but even GMs need help now and again.

So, because I was inspired to devise it for my own use, I now share with you this list of signs of secret doors, conveniently numbered if you might wish to select one using some kind of mechanism for generating an integer from 1 to 20 at random.

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A Cartograph of Adventure

Aside from that summer I spent in college working in the map room of the University of Vermont’s library, sorting aerial photographs, I don’t know if I’ve spent as much time poring over maps as I did last night since when I was ten years old and seriously hooked on L. Frank Baum and C. S. Lewis‘ chronicles of fantastic lands: the Land of Oz and Narnia, respectively. What map was I so studiously examining? The first two levels of the Castle of the Mad Archmage, of course.

And I’m glad I did, because not only did I find a few things I’m glad I know about in advance, just not to be caught surprised by them the first time I read a room’s description, but it sparked a few ideas of my own, meant to make the dungeon more “fun.” One of the most famous McGuffins in cinematic history now resides in the Archmage’s cellars — no, I won’t tell which — and I now have a short list of elements to shift around just in case the excitement slows down too much.

I have no ideas how far the players will get in this thing, if they’ll steamroll over everything and or yelping back to town three rooms in. I’ve found what I think is the most interesting entrance to the top level of the dungeon, in terms of what’s nearby. We’ll see if they feel similarly.

International Traditional Gaming Week Is Go

This game is definitely going forward. I’ve got four players — one so eager he showed up at the host’s house last night, rather than this coming Friday — a module in mind, Greyhawk Grognard‘s Castle of the Mad Archmage mega-dungeon; and a freshly printed copy of the Labyrinth Lord rules — so freshly printed, in fact, that the printer still hums and the musk of toner hangs heavy in the air as I write.

The players are making fourth level characters. I need to get the Labyrinth Lord rules c0il-bound for easy review and reference, familiarize myself with the maps, get those printed along the way and figure out if the group needs to skip a level or two to feel challenged.

Anyone else in the Burlington area interested in playing should leave a comment here to get in touch.

Adventuring Adventurers of Adventure

I didn’t think this GURPS Cabal adventure would capture my imagination like it did. I got in two and a half good hours of writing last night at Muddy Waters, scribbling down initial thoughts and setting details. That flip through the book last week not only refreshed my memory, but somehow got my brain willing to play with the Cabal setting in a way it didn’t want to back in the summer of . . . 2006?

Conversely, I’m having a harder time thinking about the Ghostbusters adventure. I thought I had a solid premise that tied in nicely with this year’s theme at Carnage, but either I’m not feeling it, or my brain’s just more interested in Cabal at the moment. And I can’t fault it; doing something substantive with Cabal has been a goal since I swiped a character or two for Mage: The Suppressed Transmission. I think I need to take a similar dive into the source material for Ghostbusters. Not the movie; I’ve got that memorized. I’m talking about the original box set from West End Games. They got something very, very right with that game and its presentation. Always go back to the source when you need rejuvenation.

Speaking of going back to the source, I pulled the chocks out from my notion of running an old school dungeon crawl for International Traditional Gaming Week. I have four interested players, a system by the name of Labyrinth Lord and the castle of a certain mad archmage. This should be good.

Reading Labyrinth Lord is weird, though. I came to role-playing games post-third edition of Dungeons & Dragons. The differences between that version of the game and the one Labyrinth Lord emulates are staggering. Ten minute turns when poking around the dungeon? Random encounters being built in to the GM’s plans? And the old chestnut of races as classes? What madness is this?

Planning for Carnage the 13th

The cast of Dr. Nik's Celestial Decision 2006 at Carnage. / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It’s over nine months away, but playing at TotalCon — and knowing my long-ass development cycle — fired me up to start thinking about role-playing adventures for Carnage the 13th. Writing two separate adventures tend to be feasible for me — although as I’ve noted in the past, one tends to get a lot more time and attention paid to it than the other. I can toss an Arkham Horror session in there and call it a good weekend.

Yes, We Now Know Whom to Call

This year, I have a different kind of quandary over what to run. I know I want to do another Ghostbusters adventure, using the same group of characters, so that reduces time spent there. With all the plot seeds I’ve run across in the last year, I have plenty of resources to draw on for that one, too. I had a particular McGuffin in mind, but now I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be a good fit for another setting, one which I haven’t had the opportunity to run before, Northern Crown.

I’m tempted to switch over to Cinematic Unisystem, as well. I’m coming to think that at the complexity level I actually run GURPS — i.e., the lightest form of GURPS Lite possible — it could give some people the wrong impression. Besides, Cinematic Unisystem has Drama Points, which I like a lot. Decisions, decisions. It would mean rebuilding characters, but that’s less of a chore in Unisystem.

But Then What?

But I’m not sure what else to run. I have this notion of using one of the old school mega-dungeons floating around the internet, like Greyhawk Grognard‘s Castle of the Mad Arch-Mage in either a free fantasy retro-clone or Pathfinder, just ’cause I have that book. But that’s never really been my oeuvre. I don’t know if I’d do it justice or be sufficiently versed in a fantasy-based system by then — though I certainly could do it in Unisystem or even GURPS.

Given that Carnage has a horror theme, I could resurrect Band on the Run, which I ran a few years ago. Monsters hide in plain sight as members of a touring rock band. The game went wildly off the rails — as they do — for which I felt it suffered, but most of the people who played expressed their enjoyment, so I try to think of it as one of those “gone so gonzo, it’s fun no matter what” games.

I could take another stab at Unknown Armies, brave the intimidating depths of GURPS Cabal, try The Day After Ragnarok or hell, run my beloved Mage: The Ascension. I need to narrow these possibilities down, find what fires my enthusiasm. That’s what energized me last year and I spent so many enjoyable hours bashing out characters and plot seeds for Lurker in the Limelight and Highway to Niflheim.

At some point I will feel comfortable recycling previously written adventures — namely BPRD: The Celestial Legion — but for now, I want to keep building my stable of material.

Suggestions, requests or pleas, Carnage-goers?

Doing It Yourself: The Best Part of the Retro-Clone Movement

Coming to gaming as late and haphazardly as I did, I can’t share in the glowing nostalgia factor of those roleplayers who look back on the wild, halcyon days of  their youth, when the goal was to clear the dungeon and buy a keep. By extension, I find myself missing out on the fervor of the retro-clone movement, where the algorithms of early roleplaying games are recreated and, sometimes, modified in texts like OSRIC and 4C. As rule systems go, to me they’re yet more ways to do things I can cheerfully do with the ones I already know, whereas to others, they’re a way of recapturing or customizing their first roleplaying experiences.

What I do dig very much about retro-clone games — in addition to the fact many are published open, under the Open Gaming License or similar licenses — is the gung-ho embodiment of the do-it-yourself ethic. While starting from an established platform, some retro-clone authors take the opportunity to modify and customize to create the system they’ve been looking for. Sometimes it’s altering the experience chart, other time it’s lifting combat rules from another game entirely.

The best part is the “go forth and do it” attitude. Roleplaying shines when it encourages people to take advantage of their own creative drives and put something out there. Even stuff like you find on B. J. Zanzibar’s site deserves credit for the creators getting it down in written form and published for people to fold, spindle and mutilate to suit their needs. At the other end of the time line, we have Eclipse Phase, the transhumanist game released under the Creative Commons license allowing others to remix and publish new content. A thread on went from a poster asking for something to doing it themselves and giving it back to the community.

I’d like to wax further on retro-clones, but I’m relatively ignorant on the topic through lack of experience and specific knowledge of the offerings around. Instead, check out Stephen Reid’s breakdown of Dungeons & Dragons-derived games, most of them emulating the game’s early editions.